FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights) Produces a Position statement for the 61st Session of the UN General Assembly
Belarus has become one of the countries mentioned in the paper. Below is an extract from FIDH position paper on Belarus.
FIDH and VIASNA Human Rights Center deplore the further deterioration of human rights in Belarus in 2005. Repression against political opponents increased, new discriminatory law criminalising civil and human rights activities was adopted, violations of freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly continued.
The number of imprisoned political opponents increased in Belarus in 2005. On May, 31 Mr Statkevitch, politician, and Mr Sieviaryniets, leader of the youth organization «Young Front» were sentenced to three years of restriction of freedom (forced labor) for organization of a peaceful protest action in Minsk on October 18-19, 2004 to contest the results of the parliamentary election and of the referendum. Following an amnesty, their sentences were reduced by one year of prison.
Mr Klimov, ex-member of the Supreme Soviet (parliament) was sentenced to 1,5 year of restriction of freedom (forced labour) for organization of the peaceful action on March, 25 demanding President Lukashenko to resign.
Valeri Levonevsky, Sergei Skrebets and Mihkail Marinich, political opponents of the regime, arrested in 2004 for their political and civil statements, remain in prison.
In 2005, Union of Poles in Belarus, big and well represented association, became a political target of the authorities which provoked a crisis in the relations between Poland and Belarus. In August, 2005 a criminal case was opened against Mr. Pachobut, editor-in-chief of the magazine of Union of Poles in Belarus «Magazyn Polski», as well as against Mr. Kevlyak, vice-chairman of the Union of Poles in Belarus, against Mr. Pisalnik, press-officer of this union, and Mr. Pozhezky, editor-in-chief of the newspaper «Glos z-nad Nemna».
Freedom of association and freedom of expression
New amendments to Belarusian Criminal Code which strengthen penal responsibility concerning “acts against people and public security” were adopted following two readings before the Belarusian Parliament, respectively on November 23 and December 8, 2005. The amendments were signed by President A. Lukashenko on December 13, 2005 and entered into force on January 14, 2006. They constitute an additional tool for the authorities to crackdown on the independent civil society in particular in the context of the organization of the next presidential election, advanced from July to March 2006.
According to the Observatory for the protection of human rights defenders (joint programme of FIDH and the World Organization against Torture), the new amendments (Article 193.1) stipulate that anyone who organizes activities in the framework of a non-registered or liquidated association may face a fine and be arrested and detained for up to six months. In serious cases (for which there is no definition), one can be subjected to a “deprivation of freedom” sentence for a period up to two years. Human rights defenders might be particularly targeted by this new disposal, since most of independent human rights NGOs were liquidated during the past three years, and since reasons for liquidation were even broadened in the recent “Law on Public Association”, adopted in August 2005. As a consequence, it will become extremely difficult for independent organizations to exist as such and conduct activities.
Moreover, any person who provides training or any other type of education aiming at participating in “mass riots”, or any person who funds such activities, may face a prison term up of to six months, or be sentenced to a “deprivation of freedom” sentence of three years (article 293 part 3 “mass riots”). Also, any person who provides training or any other form of education, aiming at the participation in “group activities which seriously violate public order”, or any funding or other material assistance of such activity, may be sentenced to prison for up to six months, and to a “deprivation of freedom” sentence of up to two years (article 342 part 2).
According to human rights defenders, these articles are used against organizers and participants of peaceful actions of protest (Severynets, Statkevich, Klimau (342), Liashkevich (293 part 3)).
Furthermore, these amendments provide very serious infringements to freedom of information. Indeed, the new amendments stipulate that “providing false information to a foreign State or international organizations, concerning the political, economical, military or international situation of the Republic of Belarus, as well as on the judicial situation of Belarusian citizens, which discredits the Republic of Belarus or its power instances”, is punishable by either a six-month prison term or a two-year “deprivation of freedom” sentence (Article 369.1). The amendments also state that any person who would communicate with foreign States or international organizations, “to the detriment of internal security, sovereignty or territorial integrity”, as well as disseminate material with such content, could be sentenced to prison up to six months or deprivation of freedom of up to three years (Article 361 parts 1 and 2). If such information was distributed through mass media, the “perpetrators” could be sentenced from two to five years in detention (Article 361 part 3).
These amendments followed the “Law on Public associations”, adopted on August 1, 2005, which facilitated the suspension or liquidation of independent organizations by broadening the reasons for sanction against them. The law also strengthened the control of the authorities over NGOs, and created new obstacles to the registration of organizations, as well as an increased takeover on their funding and activities.
In 2005, 68 associations were liquidated by the Ministry of Justice following the court decisions, and 43 others declared their auto-liquidation.
Independent political parties are also under permanent pressure. According to the information received, more than 300 branches and representations of various political parties had their registrations cancelled in 2005.
Right to peaceful assembly
Peaceful demonstrations are regularly and violently repressed in Belarus. In April 2005, a peaceful manifestation called «Chernobylsky shliakh» was severely repressed by special forces of OMON. A minor, Danila Borisevich, had his arm broken by a policeman.
In January 2005, a new version of the Law on Internal troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs entered into force. This law allow internal troops to use weapons in any circumstances «defined by the President». This new law can gravely restrict the rights to peaceful assembly in particular in the context of the next presidential election in March 2006.
According to the information received, torture and inhuman treatment are largely used in custody and prisons of Belarus. People are also beaten and subjected to humiliations during the repressions against non-authorized peaceful demonstrations and after them, when they are kept in custody.
On July 7, Svetlana Zavadskaya, widow of a journalist Dmitry Zavadsky who disappeared in 2000, was severely beaten during a commemoration action on the 5th anniversary of the disappearance of her husband. The beating was medically certified but no legal charges were brought against Yuri Davidovich, a policeman responsible for these acts.
Freedom of the press
The situation of the freedom of the press remains dramatic in Belarus. According to the information received, in late 2005, 17 independent editions were deprived from being distributed through the State distribution services. State group “Beltelecom” remains the only provider of the Internet in the country. Independent newspaper “Narodnaya Volya” is regularly put on trial on grounds of administrative sanctions.
Death penalty is still not abolished in Belarus, and people were still condemned to death in 2005. However, the information on the real number of such verdicts and executions is kept secret by the authorities.
Considering that no progress has been made towards a better protection of human rights in Belarus, FIDH and VIASNA Human Rights Center call upon the Third Committee of the General Assembly to adopt a resolution on the situation of human rights in Belarus which would call for the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus, and urge the authorities to, inter alia:
- invite the Special Rapporteur and cooperate fully with the Special mechanisms of the United Nations,
- guarantee the independence of the judiciary and implement the recommendations of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention,
- take the necessary steps to ensure that those responsible for enforced disappearance of political opponents and businessmen are brought to justice before an independent and impartial tribunal,
- guarantee freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in accordance with international and regional human rights instruments,
- guarantee free and fair elections,
- cease harassment and intimidation of people whose views differ from the authorities, reopen liquidated NGOs and educational establishments, and recognize the role of human rights defenders in the field of democracy and the necessity to protect them in accordance with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders,
- render its laws on the freedom of association consistent with international human rights law,
- abolish death penalty,
- comply with its international and national human rights obligations.